Grant Allows St. Joseph's College to Expand Nursing Program

Jan 17, 2017

A shortage of nurses in Maine may soon improve, thanks to a new grant to St. Joseph’s College.

The Harold Alfond Foundation announced Tuesday that it’s awarding a $1.5 million challenge grant to St. Joseph’s to expand its nursing program, which could position the school as the pipeline the state needs for one of its fastest growing industries.

Nurses account for more than 14,000 jobs in Maine and make an average wage of $31 an hour. It’s a good career, says Labor Department Commissioner Jeanne Paquette, and there’s plenty of room for more to join the field.

“Between now and 2024, we’re going to need to replace 40 percent of the nursing workforce because they’re over the age of 50,” she says.

To keep pace with demand, Paquette says Maine needs to produce at least 500 more nursing graduates per year. A new grant to St. Joseph’s College, she says, will help put a dent in that need.

“We need a pipeline, and what St. Joseph’s is doing is creating the infrastructure to be able to get that pipeline through,” she says.

St. Joseph’s is already one of the largest nursing programs in the state. But with its current facilities, says Department of Nursing Chair Dr. Anthony McGuire, it can’t grow.

“It’s restricted both from a physical standpoint and a faculty standpoint. So, we don’t have enough simulation labs and faculty members to get through large numbers,” he says.

Currently, St. Joseph’s enrolls about 1,200 students online and on campus in its nursing program. Those numbers could boost by at least 10 percent with the grant.

Once St. Joseph’s raises matching dollars, the college will build four new simulation labs to give students more hands-on clinical training, expand scholarships for Maine students and expand the degrees it offers to include doctor of nursing practice and acute care nurse practitioner programs, the latter of which McGuire says is an emerging specialty in health care.

“The need is there. There’s no training in Maine currently for these acute care NPs,” he says.

The new facilities and the new degrees will also help attract faculty, says McGuire, which is another challenge for nursing. Just as the workforce is aging, so too is the age of nursing faculty in Maine, with 64 percent over the age of 50.

Knowing about the critical need makes student Rachel Waterhouse all the more motivated to finish her nursing degree.

“Even if you don’t want to work directly with patients, there’s so many different avenues and branches of nursing. So there’s so much potential. And really, anybody could do it and would love it,” she says.

Though Waterhouse will graduate before St. Joseph’s new Center for Nursing Excellence opens, she hopes to use it in the future. Not only does she want to become a nurse, she wants to return to the college one day to become a clinical instructor.